Posts Tagged ‘lucy goleby

27
Apr
15

Brisbane

 

Brisbane

Queensland Theatre Company

QPAC Playhouse

April 11 – May 2 2015

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

I am absolutely sure – 100% sure – that it (the break down in the development of new Australian works) cannot be solved by just trying to pick winners. I don’t think that that is a viable strategy for horse racing let alone for playwriting. You need some deeper philosophical, political, social and artistic sense of what drama is if you’re going to encourage and develop Australian drama into its next diverse and myriad-formed existence.

Julian Meyrick

 


brisbane_dashkruck

 

 

Drama is like the minute hand of the clock.

Julian Meyrick

 

 

I’ve been thinking about who you are, reading this blog, with pieces that are sometimes so sporadically posted I wonder that you come back at all, and I wonder what you’re seeing in between visiting here. And what does it matter, and what should become of it… I’ve been thinking about not writing but I have to, even when the process of writing something about a show sometimes takes longer than the run of a show. I love the process. I love considering what might be worth mentioning and what might be better left unsaid. I love living through the productions and reliving that journey after the curtain comes down. I love the theatre, the people involved, and this place, where I can share my experience with you, whoever you are, whatever it is you’re here for. I’m not sure what else to do with it – perhaps you have some ideas – and I keep deferring developing this site, and further study and a second blog purely for writing because I’m not sure what to do with all of THAT, what shape everything needs to take, or what any of it will do for me, or for you, but I keep coming back here, as you do, to keep some sort of quiet conversation going, perhaps just so it doesn’t stop.

 

 

{What happens when you have authority speaking about what happens in the theatre?}

We must have a cultural memory.

Alison Croggon

 

 

Over a week ago I saw Matthew Ryan’s Brisbane. Since opening night, I’ve been thinking about how we teach our children about war. It was always the part of studying ancient and modern history that I couldn’t understand. I still don’t understand it. I try to convey the respect and gratitude I feel for those who went to war to protect our right to live in a country of freedom and privilege. I have mixed feelings about teaching the pride part. I’m not even sure how I feel about my grandfather’s role in the war. This week I joined the family at his funeral, which included a full soldier’s farewell, and then I joined the local community at a traditional ANZAC Day commemorative service, sans Welcome to Country and frustratingly prayer fuelled. Okay. I know. We’re still a nation commanded by God. I should get over it. But WAR. LEARNED HATRED. FORCED, RELENTLESS, USELESS KILLING. WTF?

 

Over 30 000 Australian servicemen were taken prisoner in the Second World War. Two-thirds of those taken prisoner were captured by the Japanese during their advance through south-east Asia within the first weeks of 1942. While those who became prisoners of the Germans had a strong chance of returning home at the end of the war, 36 per cent of prisoners of the Japanese died in captivity.

 

mervhenrygrulke

 

My grandfather, Merv Henry Grulke, was a Sparrow Force guerilla soldier and a (POW) Changi survivor. He was three years off receiving his telegram from the queen when he died last week, just six months after my grandma left us. It’s a well-deserved rest for someone who, like so many, endured years of physical and mental anguish during and after the Second World War. During, after any war…

 

Brisbane, 1942: a big country town jumping at shadows, never knowing if that buzz in the air is a cicada or a squadron of merciless Japanese Zeroes. World War II took the city’s innocence, and that of 14-year-old Danny Fisher.


Danny’s dashing pilot brother has been killed in the Bombing of Darwin. As Danny’s devastated family unravels, the teen finds a surrogate sibling in Andy, one of the Americans stationed in Brisbane. The American pilot takes Danny under his wing, and as the tension begins to rise between the Yank and Aussie servicemen, Danny hatches a reckless revenge plan against those who took his brother.

 

Until I was four years old I lived in an old Queenslander just like fourteen-year-old Danny’s. (And then again during uni days, with actors, actually in Brisbane, but that’s another story). I don’t know if my memories of that first house in Emerald are from being there, or from the photos and stories stashed away in albums and minds since. I think I remember the smell of the dust, and spider webs and shadows and cricket balls and suitcases and appliances, and piles of things that didn’t belong anywhere else.

 

brisbane_ladder

 

Designer, Stephen Curtis has perfectly realised the freedom, the playful sense of growing up in an old Queenslander, recreating the immense space of the high ceilinged house and its nether regions beneath. The same space becomes the famous, much loved Brisbane dance hall, Cloudland, and later across the river, the Trocadero. Lit bewitchingly by David Walters, the house itself is full of potential and/or missed opportunity, an undercurrent of the play, and underneath exists a magical space where anything is possible. No missed opportunities here, the set is in synch with every aspect of the story. There are not too many main stage productions that get it THIS right.

 

There is a good side to not being crushed by culture… there’s a tremendous freedom in Australian performance and a huge intelligence, and a kind of disrespect that’s really healthy.

 

The air is thick and wet and the sun burns your skin like it hates your guts. January’s got it in for everyone. It has a temper that builds and builds, until it’s had enough of you and dumps a mountain of water and electricity on your head to end it quick. Then it starts over again. The smell of the dirt road mixes with the pong of dead fruit that falls from the trees. Houses sit on stilts, breathing the cool air beneath them. Street after street. Streets that make up suburbs. Suburbs that make up Brisbane…

 

I’m sure the haters will say, “Oh, C’MON!” but for me this is magnificent, evocative, poetic writing. I love it. I love the feeeeel of it, the energy of it, the cheeky pointers and the gentle, quiet gaps, which Matthew Ryan is confident to leave for director, designer, actors and audiences to fill. I loved Kelly (currently enjoying a national tour), and Brisbane now puts Ryan in a unique position as a writer in this country, sharing our cultural and historical stories in a way we haven’t yet heard. We’ve read something like it – there are similar insightful voices on the page – but his is a theatrical narrative voice that’s refreshing and magically real on stage (and it’s so suited to Australian film; I hope we see something on screen soon). It’s a more personal, more poignant, more cleverly critical style, supporting our fondest memories and challenging notions of what’s already been recorded. The balance of light and dark is just about perfect, and except for the thank-god-bless-us-and-bathe-us-in-light moment at the end, it strikes all the right chords. (Oh dear, but that major chord! That golden light through what might as well be stained glass windows! An eye roll moment indeed!).

 

The text highlights the national state of mind at the time, which reflected our notions of “mateship”, machismo, fearful and unforgiving parenting, and our attitudes towards war, women and foreigners.

 

brisbane

 

A comical “cringe” moment in the play (as in, “We probs shouldn’t be laughing at this”) serves to challenge our current notions too, and it reminds me of that terrible episode of Popeye, you know, The Sailor Man, which never aired but had been included in a DVD box set, which I innocently put on for Poppy one day. In Brisbane, the kids of the neighbourhood play at shooting down the Japanese, as kids were wont to do at the time. In the black & white classic series, Popeye defeats the entire Japanese army, referring to the enemy as “slant-eyed, buck-toothed, yellow-skinned Japansies”. By making light of the ugly truth about human nature it’s even more disturbing to recognise it! Still! Art is a mirror. Or a hammer… Yes. You’ve got to be carefully taught.

 

artisnotamirror_mayakovsky

 

 

There musn’t be one single discourse.

 

 

These characters are so familiar yet we are able to stay safely, emotionally, distant from them. It’s the comedy and the abstractness of the storytelling, switching between real events and what Danny sees is his world that challenges us to consider another point of view. It’s magic realism at play, and it’s not to say we don’t care about them – far from it – we feel deeply for Danny (Dash Kruck), who loses his older brother, Frank (Conrad Coleby perfectly double cast as the American ex-pilot, Andy), and for Frank’s father (Hayden Spencer at his most brutal best), who essentially loses both sons when Frank dies. As for the broken mother, Annie (Veronica Neave), we recognise her deeply personal grief and the embodiment of the women of the era; their ability to pick up the pieces, step into traditionally male roles and “get on with it” while their men either crumble around them or don’t return home. It’s not entirely surprising that it’s she who finally finishes a mini reno on Frank’s room. We see similar resilience in the “big sister”, Rose (Lucy Goleby, luminescent in this role).

 

brisbane_harrietdyeranddashkruck

 

Kruck has been gifted the role of a lifetime in this production. Because Ryan has made the most of his knowledge of Kruck’s physicality and natural vocal cadence during the rehearsal process, the character, as it’s written, is a perfect fit. Under Iain Sinclair’s bold direction, Kruck clearly relishes the opportunity to stretch his wings. He is perfectly matched by the fierce and very funny Harriet Dyer as the best friend, the “cripple”, Patty. I adore Patty, in a way that I would never dare to in real life because I’d be terrified of her! Of course there have always been women learning on their own to be THAT strong (and THAT feared! Ha!). Kruck and Dyer and Goleby develop close connections that are highly entertaining and deeply moving. The moments of sexual awakening are hilarious and the unrequited love, treated so sensitively and tenderly, is actually heartbreaking.

 

brisbane_bullies

 

Our history has such dark moments but there is good, gorgeous, wicked humour here too; the comedy is intelligently written and unashamedly playfully delivered. So much of it comes from the familiar colloquialisms and the childish behaviour of the school bullies and the country’s politicians. We enjoy razor sharp parodies of the leaders at the time, like grotesque tongue-in-cheek comic strips brought to life. This comical theatrical style, thrown casually in amongst the rest, won’t please everybody but it’s a deliberate device; it highlights the propaganda of war and lightens the heavy mood. Matthew Backer, Daniel Murphy and Hugh Parker play these multiple roles (to the hilt!), alerting us to the similarities between the bullies in government and in the street.

 

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Nothing is lost on the opening night audience. The first reference to Cloudland is a sentence completed in an anticipatory whisper by the audience before the actor can do so and there is an awesome moment of collective pride, the nodding and smiling of people in The Playhouse as they remember… It’s a magical moment – the magic of live theatre – and it’s not lost on those who weren’t there to see the real thing. We get it.

 

The mere presence of new Australian work is no guarantee of cultural health; it has to be Australian work that matters.

 

Dramaturg, Louise Gough, has obviously had a hand in making this work one that matters. It’s one thing to be making and staging new Australian work; it’s another thing entirely to be contributing to the canon of work that informs our history. These stories have come from the truth told by so many. We must keep hearing these stories, seeing them, sharing them. We must try to learn from them. History repeats itself because we don’t learn from it! I hope this is a version of our history you’ll get to experience before it finishes here. I’ll experience it again this week with our students, and I look forward to hearing (reading, marking…) their take on it.

 

What is not being said, what is not being written down, what is not recorded, what is not even noticed?

 

Slouch hats off to QTC’s World Premiere production of Matthew Ryan’s Brisbane; it’s set to become a true blue Australian classic. You must see it.

 

 

Additional quotes taken from AUDIO | STAGE Episode 2 Alison Croggon / Writing History

23
Nov
14

Gasp! and a chat with Ben Elton

 

Gasp!

Queensland Theatre Company & Black Swan Theatre Company

QPAC Playhouse

November 17 – December 7 2014

 

 Review by Xanthe Coward

 

Interview by Guy Frawley

 

Imagine a world in which the air we breathe is just another commodity like food and fuel. Something that can be bought and sold according to market forces…

 

QTC_Gasp_14_event

 

You must be quite excited. It’s been 24 years since Gasping opened. I’m quite interested in hearing why you decided to rework the piece into Gasp! for 2014 and why the choice of Australian setting?

 

It’s very much the other way around, I didn’t choose to rewrite the show and use an Australian setting. It’s more the Australian setting just kept bringing me back to that show. I’m pretty fortunate, I have a pretty big back catalogue and there’s a lot of it that I could do with revisiting and could probably be improved. But you don’t normally do that, you just go forward. But with Gasping, my first professional play, I always thought it was one of the best ideas I’ve ever had.

 

Using this grand conceit of air that becomes this attainable, mineable commodity, resource as we call our planet. It was performed several times around the world and I never thought I’d revisit it, although I always thought it would be nice to and I’ve occasionally played with the idea of a movie. I talked at some length with Russell Crowe about it, who also liked the idea of it for a movie.

 

Anyway, I now live in Australia and am Australian and for the last few years I’ve been very fortunate in that Kate Cherry at the Black Swan Theatre Company in Perth has often said to me, “When are you going to write an Australian play?” I thought about it and thought how lovely it would be to write an Australian play and I wondered what is it that we feel about Australia?

 

What’s moving me? What’s getting me excited? What’s getting me angry? What am I passionate about?

 

And basically for the five years we’ve been living in Oz with our kids as a part of the society, well it’s been the bloody resources, the mining boom! That’s all anybody ever talks about! With the exception of Jihad taking over. All we talk about is the carbon tax, the mining tax, global warming, the resources industry, is it good? Is it bad? Gina, Twiggy, Clive. It just looms so large, that I started to think about a play that talks about our duties and our responsibilities and the grand comedy that has been the public debate about these topics over the last decade. I kept going back to Gasping and thinking, well I’ve already written the bloody play it’s just set in the wrong time, in the wrong place and with the wrong dialogue. But it was the right idea! So I went to Kate and told her I’d like to rewrite my first play and take that idea of air as a resource and set in in Australia in 2014, she was very excited about it. And that’s why Gasp! has a new title, because it is an entirely new play, although still very similar. It’s a weird hybrid but I think it’s a much better play; it has much better dialogue, a few new characters, a love interest, subtler sort of development although it’s still a very broad comedy. It’s a reimagining of a comedy about answers. So yes…a long answer!

 

gasp_green

 

Ben Elton’s Gasping (1990) was his first play and GASP! is a solid attempt to breathe some new life into it.

 

Given the same sleek and easy “it’s funny, it can’t fail” treatment by Director, Wesley Enoch, as QTC’s production of Williamson’s Managing Carmen and with the same smooth, slick looking set design by Christina Smith as Other Desert Cities (I love the gliding scene changes), this rich excuse for a satire is simply overcooked. Elton’s writing is known for its witticisms and political and social stings, and for its PLAIN FUNNY STUFF. THIS IS NOT THAT WRITING. I loved Maybe Baby and watched the VHS tape until it stopped working one day. I still love Popcorn, The Young OnesWe Will Rock You (Silly Cow not so much) and I’m a loyal Blackadder fan. Unfortunately, Gasp! is overwritten, over directed and over acted, with little allowance for nuance. Written for laughs, it needs thinning, like a cool, clever summer haircut.

 

The cast give accurate portrayals in essence but they have so many gags to get through! Oh my goodness, I almost feel sorry for them! I feel they are waiting for us to laugh out loud! Exhausting! And frustrating…

 

You talk about Black Swan Theatre Company in Perth and the show is then transitioning to QLD to QTC. Considering the content of Gasp! and the impact of the mining boom in both of these states specifically, was there a conscious decision to premiere the show in these states?

 

Absolutely, it wasn’t my idea, it was Kate’s. She liked what I was talking about and the first thing she said was that this would be a great co-production with the other great ‘mining state’. QTC and Black Swan have a great relationship, they’ve had a number of collaborations and this one struck her as the most obvious collaboration. So she approached Wesley Enoch with my idea, and much to my great delight, he wanted to bring QTC into it. It’s been rehearsed in Brisbane before opening in Perth, and we hope the rest of Australia at some point will get the chance to see it as I think it is that rare thing, a very topical satire about what’s going on right now. It’s unashamedly contemporary, there are gags that if the play has legs I’ll have to rewrite in a year or two because the PUP’s latest successes will be history by then.

 

Perhaps a small project here for posterity then, that you can keep updating as the show travels.

 

Well that actually slightly scares me as it’s exactly what I’ve had to do with We Will Rock You, which has taken over my life! It was written many years ago and obviously jokes about Boyzone and a young Britney just don’t work any more. We’ve now got a middle aged Britney, which shows just how long We Will Rock You has been going. But look, if it turns out that people like the show, if the show has legs, I’d happily keep it current. It’s a satire, not a polemic.

 

The original Gasping used the caricature of the new ‘Yuppie’ in the early 1990s as a central part of the show and also handled the concept of environmentalism very much from the perspective of it’s own time. I’d suggest that both of these concepts have developed and changed quite drastically over the past 24 years and the conversation today is markedly different. How, when taking your original inspiration, Thatcher, the UK of the late 80s etc have you adjusted this to suit a contemporary Australia?

 

Well you know the more things change the more remain the same. When I was writing Gasping Thatcher was in power and now when I write Gasp! Abbot’s in power, so there are some things that are quite similar. Mind you there are some things that are quite different. As you say, a lot of the humour of Gasping was a sort of jolly take on the Wall Street Wanker London Brits pretending they were brilliant, pin stripe suited Americans in that Yuppie explosion of the late 80s. That’s all comic history now! I was saying at the rehearsals how I’d changed the description of a trendy advertising exec, in the original show he drove a 10-speed racer and now he’s a hipster with a fixie. But actually, the much broader context is that whilst with Gasping I was dealing with a very fictionalised comic world of Yuppies as the cartoon image of Thatcherised horror, I’m now dealing with a real world. I’m now dealing with the real world, I’m talking about the mining sector which isn’t peopled with cartoon villains. It’s the real world, with real resources, real jobs. I think it’s now much subtler, not really subtle, but much more so than Gasping was.

 

Throughout the rewrite I’m interested to know how much the actual characters themselves have been adjusted. Are these primarily superficial updates that leave the original motivations and personalities quite similar?

 

It’s the same play and it’s completely different. All the characters from the original are still there, with the addition of one very significant new one, which is Phillip’s (the lead protagonists) emotional life, Phillip’s love interest. She gives a little bit more emotional reality to the reason he makes the moral compromises that he does and gets tied up in the moral dilemmas that he gets tied up in. It’s more of a character driven story and narrative than an ideas driven polemic, which it was originally. A load of gags with a big satirical sledge hammer point to make at the end of it, which is what the original play was.

 

It’s still not Chekov in terms of psychological astuteness but it’s got more to offer the audience in terms of character development. But then I’ve really learned more as a writer. When I was writing my first professional play I’d never written a novel, we’d only just started on Blackadder, I was mainly a sketch writer and a stand up comedian, and I’ve learned quite a lot about story telling and characterisation since then. There’s not many writers that get the privilege that I’ve been given to take something they wrote as a young man and to be able to rewrite it as a middle aged man.

 

I know that Hugh Laurie originally played Phillip when the show first opened. Had you originally envisioned him as your Phillip and did the spectre of Hugh hang over Phillip as you re-wrote the play?

 

Well there’s no doubt when I wrote Gasping I wrote it with Hugh in mind, there’s no doubt about that. We worked together very closely throughout the 80s and when I was writing the play I had his voice, as almost a modern Bertie Wooster figure, an imbecilic enthusiast but placed in an 80s, yuppie, Thatcherite Britain and I very much had his voice in mind. But with Gasp! as I say, I think it’s a little subtler, it’s more open to interpretation, the character isn’t so sketch like in his qualities. I think that offers the actor more room. It’s fun to have the play now being cast and played by actors that I haven’t cast, Wesley’s cast, and it’s a really interesting exercise for me to let the characters breathe more and not just make them ciphers for my own comedic voice. Losing the voices of the late 80s was actually joyful for me, because the ideas of the play are interesting and it was fun to be able to write them with a little more care. I just sort of dashed Gasping off. I was young, exuberant!

 

gasp_steamroom

 

Phillip (Damon Lockwood – also a director & writer – watch this space) reminds Sam of John Tuturro; the lanky, awkward, unusually bold nerd, and Kirsten (Caroline Brazier) reminds us both of a gorgeous, gun publicist we know and love. Chifley Lockheart (Greg McNeil) is everything a mining magnate needs to be and Sandy (Steven Rooke) goes above and beyond to bring us the suited up stereotype of an actual noughties Mad Men man. Peggy (Lucy Goleby) sneezes and sniffles to death in too abrupt an end! (Also, is 2014 the year we started shouting to be heard in the Playhouse?!).

 

Nobody really gets a chance to shine, but everybody gets a chance to bedazzle. We’re not fooled. Gasp! is the Payless pair of shoes once you’ve been wearing Jimmy Choos. You can’t go back, baby.

 

You’ve been a citizen now for over a decade but have been travelling back and forth from the UK for much longer than that. How have you witnessed the growth of the theatre scene over this period?

 

Well call me a bit naughty, but I’m only just now really getting into the Australian theatre scene. In the old days I’d visit and there wasn’t really much going to the theatre, my girlfriend was a professional musician and when we’d go out it was mainly to her gigs, then we got married, based ourselves in Britain and didn’t see a lot of Australia during the 90s, and when the kids were born around the turn of the millennium we remained based in Britain. Even though we constantly came back to see the family, again it wasn’t really about going to the theatre. We did a bit more of that when we were in London. Then we came here in 2010 to live and that’s when I started to really take a broader interest in Perth’s cultural life. That’s when I met Kate Cherry and we started going to the theatre and really there’s a very hot scene going on in Perth. We’ve got two fringe theatres, we’ve got two theatre companies, Perth Theatre Company and Black Swan and it’s a very vibrant time!

 

gasp_digger

 

While the premise is well established (it’s so crazy it just might work and truth is stranger than fiction and all that stuff), the cogs don’t turn together. The pieces don’t quite fit. Seeing Gasp! is like punching into the wrong place the piece of a puzzle that doesn’t look right, but you try it anyway. It’s forced and it’s not as funny as it should be. Still, some will enjoy the references to local bits and pieces and people. I guess Elton proves with this piece that he knows – no, he KNOWS – Australia.